Increased production through a state-of-the-art facility

Marine Harvest - the global leader in farmed salmon production - aims to increase their output in Scotland by 50%. To meet expansion plans and future production requirements, they needed a brand new, cutting-edge hatchery close to their existing facility at Lochailort - a remote location of outstanding beauty and environmental sensitivity. The site has a long history of aquaculture innovation: the first farmed salmon was grown here in the early 1970s.

Robertson was contracted to build this new facility, resulting in the Lochailort Recirculation Unit: the world's largest and most technically advanced facility of its kind. Incorporating industry-leading aquaculture installations and infrastructure, it has the capacity to house 11 million salmon. Around 10 million litres of water (or the equivalent of four Olympic-sized swimming pools) is pumped through the facility per hour, every day of the year.

The project required extensive infrastructure works, including excavation, site preparation, drainage and road improvements. Other external works entailed the installation of a diesel generator and oxygen tanks. Adding to the project's complexity was the client's existing premises nearby, which had to remain fully operational during the construction works.



The Recirculation Unit itself comprises a freshwater intake, water treatment plant, egg incubation facility, process water pipework and varying sizes of circular tanks, as well as staff accommodation. The 13,935m2 building houses 12 staff; six of them in the hatchery.

Site activity figures throughout the project were impressive: 2.56km of pipework in the ground, 1271 tonnes of reinforcing installed, 8300m3 of concrete poured, 5700m2 of walling put in place, 13410m2 of roofing laid, and 18 million litres of water pumped (for water-testing the concrete structures).

Translating requirements into reality: 
the co-ordination of a large design team

Robertson worked as main contractor, although the specialist nature of the project dictated that the design team was employed directly by the client. It comprised of D Kelly Architects, Jacobs Engineering Group, Aquatec Solutions (AQS), and International Aqua Tech (IAT). Robertson employed BHC Structural steel, Fact Trac Envelope Solutions, Asher Associates, Cowal Design, OES Electrical, Korrie Mechanical, and Nopi Internal Partition Systems. Through early involvement, Robertson assisted in co-ordinating the design, making sure that the design development process was properly resourced and managed; that buildability, access and logistics issues were properly addressed; and that design was co-ordinated between the members of this large design team.

Various complex and significant elements of the design were procured by Marine Harvest as Contractor Design Portions (CDPs), so a good and close working relationship between client, designers, contractor and supply chain was essential. Robertson maintained a strict focus on de-risking design, thereby ensuring that the designers completed their work as far as practically possible and that problems were not unnecessarily left to be resolved on site.

The contractor's solutions: reducing costs and environmental impact

Instead of importing concrete and quarried materials (for a requirement of over 8300m3 and 30,215 tonnes respectively), Robertson's proposal and bid centred around processing and site-batching all the excavated and site-won materials to satisfy the project's demand for concrete and stone; a saving that totalled £324k. This also removed the need to export materials from site during excavations, saving another £200k. In the end, not a single stone was imported to or exported from the site. This strategy also helped to drastically reduce the project's environmental impact: not one wagon took waste or delivered stone or aggregate to the site. This reduced the requirement for road haulage between Fort William and Lochailort - a distance of 32 miles - by over 2230 journeys.

With buildability and commercial viability as governing factors throughout the project, design and materials were scrutinised and reviewed to optimise best value. All in all, the savings offered to the client at tender stage and during construction amounted to £774k.

Setting the standards: safety and quality control

Adhering to the programme and ensuring impeccable standards of safety were the team's prime consideration at all times. A daily briefing was implemented where sequence of works, phasing, zoning and H&S were discussed, set and adhered to by all contractors on site, resulting in seamless processes and a clash-free work environment.

Contract programmes were constantly reviewed, and tweaks incorporated as necessary in response to a constantly changing site and the West Highland weather. Subcontractor attendance was identified and time slots allocated, and adequate resources were deployed to meet programme demands. Progress was reported weekly and monthly.

Robertson's quality control procedures were strictly enforced and followed; the exacting programme did not allow for mistakes. Raw aggregates used for concrete manufacture were periodically tested, concrete cubes were taken, and pre- and post-pour inspections were performed.

Due to the network of underground pipes, a robust strategy had to be developed to ensure that integrity was maintained. Pressure-tests on individual lines were conducted and witnessed prior to backfill, after backfill, and post concrete-pour. Specifications were adhered to and works were executed according to plans.

One of the many unique features of this facility is the sterilisation of incoming raw water. This is achieved by injecting O2 into the water supply, creating ozone. Special consideration and precautions were implemented during this commissioning process, as large quantities of contained O2 were fed into the system. Permits to work and exclusion zones were set up, along with monitoring of O2 levels, to maintain continuity of works in adjacent areas.

The logistics were challenging: at the project's peak, 16 different nationalities were on site simultaneously, which meant translation of safety signage had to be constantly updated. Following 90,563 man-hours, and with over 120 people on site at any given time, there were no reportable accidents throughout the project's duration.

The site has received delegations from one of China's leading food manufacturers, as well as three out of the UK's four major retail outlets. Bill Robertson, Executive Chairman of Robertson, has encouraged other project managers to visit Lochailort, with a view to observing and replicating what he has described as best practice in almost all disciplines with regards to presentation, production and health, safety and welfare.

Community spirit: corporate social responsibility

Offices, storage and welfare facilities were created to cover all Robertson and sub-contractor requirements throughout the duration of the project. A canteen was established by converting a block of five old offices. The kitchen and servery were fully fitted out and the canteen was used to serve all meals from early breakfast through lunch to late supper, particularly for the on-site labour force. Two old houses were gutted and fitted out for accommodation, and a camp large enough to house 36 workers was created. Effectively, the project team had built its own, self-sufficient village. Every effort was made to ensure that the traffic to and from site, as well as other potentially adverse impact on the local community, was kept to an absolute minimum.

As a benefit to the Lochailort area, the team cleared up a considerable number of trees that had fallen during a destructive storm in January 2012, and the logs were given to the local villagers. The ditches and avenues in the adjacent Inverailort Castle were also cleared of windblown trees, which were again logged and offered up to the locals. Robertson was the sponsor for the local Lochailort Highland Games, which proved a great success. An open invitation was issued to all passers-by and locals to use the Robertson canteen as desired. Late-evening barbecues were also held to maintain team morale and offer some leisure time to the committed workforce.

Robertson's Considerate Constructors Scheme score was 34.5, and despite quadrupling the local population (a hamlet with little more than 30 inhabitants) with a full, international mix of people, no complaints were received.

End result: a facility for global leadership and local employment

Robertson was involved in the planning, design and construction of the project from a pre-tender stage. The overall project value was £16.1 million, and works began in late February 2012. The Lochailort Recirculation Unit was finished on time and considerably below budget.

At the official opening of the Lochailort Recirculation Unit, Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond said: "I am hugely proud of the salmon industry in Scotland, but this £16m facility couldn't have been built in the sustainable way it's been built without the work of the Robertson Group.

"For example, the sand and gravel - of which a lot was needed to build this facility! - was all excavated from site rather than brought in, and that in itself has saved over 2000 lorry trips. That is a demonstration of the environmental sustainability that goes into not only the greenness and the quality of product that will come from this facility, but that has gone into the fabrication and construction stages from the Robertson Group."


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